(To learn how to pray the Holy Rosary, please click here: How to meditate on Our Lord Jesus’_life / the Gospels with the Rosary )
To know, love and imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ – such is the principle of Christian life, the secret of perfection. True perfection consists formally in the love which unites us to Jesus, but as one cannot love without acquaintance, and affectionate acquaintance engenders imitation – one is anxious to resemble those whom one loves – it follows that the imitation, as well as the knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ, form, as it were, the integral parts of that perfection, the essence of which is love.
The Rosary is the school where Mary trains us daily in the Christian life. There, not only does this divine Mother fill our understanding with the knowledge of Jesus and our hearts with love of Him, but she completes her work by imprinting on us, by imitation, the image of Him who is the First-born of all the elect. To this last point I would particularly direct your attention.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the First-born of all the elect.
Created as we are to the image of God, we feel the need of perfecting with us this divine image, of drawing out all its splendour, by imitating more and more closely our sovereign model. In the beginning, the angel and the man, intoxicated with foolish pride, wished to push the divine resemblance beyond all limits, even to the extent of absolute independence, which is the attribute of God alone. Avenging His slighted rights, God struck down Lucifer, and severely punished the first man. The punishment of the latter, however, was not untempered with mercy. God raised Adam and Eve anew, and once more showing Heaven to them, revealed to their eyes through the distance of ages One whose imperfect image they were henceforth to bear, till they at length resumed His glory.
Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God the Father, appears at the centre of the new creation as the finished model which we all must copy, which we must all resemble if we are to be counted among the children of God. To the Blessed Virgin, who formed this divine exemplar, is allotted the task of reproducing His likeness in each one of the elect. The Rosary is the mould into which she casts souls, to form them to the divine image; or let us say, rather, that with the Rosary, as with a chosen instrument, this admirable artist sculptures, paints, and imprints the image of her Son. She sculptures it in the neophytes, paints it in souls more advanced, and imprints it in hearts which are responsive to the lightest touch of grace.
The purgative, illuminative and unitive life
Spiritual authors tell us that in the work of perfecting us, and forming us in the likeness of Jesus Christ, it is necessary, first, to take away, like the sculptors, then to add, like the painters, and finally to apply and unite closely, like the printers.
The purgative life
In the purgative life, in which the soul divests itself of its vices and bad habits, it is necessary above all to cut away. In the Rosary, therefore, Mary sculptures certain souls, refining them by the practice of poverty, of mortification, of ever increasing detachment. In the joyful mysteries, she takes from us the love of earthly treasures by showing us Jesus poor and shelterless; in the sorrowful, she destroys our love of ease, our desire for pleasure, by opposing to our sensuality the terrible sufferings of our Saviour; in the glorious mysteries, she severs the last ties which bind us to earth, elevating our hearts by the spectacle of Jesus ascending into heaven.
As the sculptor first rounds off a block of marble, then gradually outlines the statue, and finally completes it with little touches of the chisel, so the Blessed Virgin, after the sinful habits, removes the small defects, even to the last lingering imperfections of a soul which generously penitent abandons itself entirely to her.
The illuminative life
In the illuminative life, in which the soul devotes itself particularly to progress in virtue, Mary resembles the painter who adds colour to colour, mixing and blending them suitably, in order to produce an accurate and life-like portrait. When the soul, purified of its faults, presents, as it were, a spotless surface, the immaculate Virgin complacently deposits on this stainless background the colours of all the virtues, spreading perpetually a new layer of grace; and the Rosary is the rich palette from which she draws the tints which contribute to the perfection of the image, which she wishes to produce. Under the brush of this incomparable artist the dazzling whiteness of faith, the celestial radiations of hope, the soft crimson of charity, the shades and reflections of all the virtues mingle on the countenance of the soul, formerly gloomy and darkened, and stamp upon it the supernatural expression which distinguishes the children of God.
Ah! could we, by a life of piety and habitual recollection, by frequent meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, keep our soul always ready, spread forth to its utmost limit, like a precious canvas, on which Mary might exercise her divine art by completing in us the image of her Son!
The unitive life
In all cases there is no better way to obtain a perfect resemblance in a short time than to reproduce the model itself by applying it to the surface on which it is to be represented. The image shows itself immediately, distinguished by an accuracy far greater than could be obtained by endless touches of the brush.
When a soul has arrived at the punitive life, that is, at such a degree of love for God as excludes all return to self, and justifies the words of the great apostle: “It is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in me” – then Mary imprints Jesus in this soul, as on soft, pure wax. In a moment the celestial image appears, no longer merely in outline; it is reflected each day more faithfully in the affections, in the desires, in every act. Pone me ut signaculum super cor tuum, ut signaculum super brachium tuum. Jesus is set like a seal on the heart and on the arm, in the intention and in the deed.
The contemplative soul, closely united to God by love, receives, in passing through the mysteries of the Rosary, the impression of this divine seal. Mary herself applies it, and, according to the mystery, she reproduces Jesus humble, gentle, obedient, Jesus in His wisdom, power, goodness and infinite grace; or again, as in those modern portraits which light produces with such exactitude, Mary, admirable light emanating from the Sun of Justice, transmits in perfection the features of the divine model, imprinting them with the utmost fidelity to the depths of the heart.
An imperishable resemblance to the Father who is in heaven
Who then, faithful to this Rosary, would not allow himself to be worked upon by Her who knows so well how to mould a soul, how to paint and imprint Jesus on it? Let us dispose ourselves daily by a life of mortification, of recollection and intimate union with God, to aid Mary in her admirable work, unquestionably more admirable than all the works of nature, for the material creation even in its most beautiful manifestations, offers only a distant reflection of God, while the soul devoted to the Rosary, closely united to Christ, bears an imperishable resemblance to the Father who is in Heaven.
– Laverty & Sons, 1905